Where is the line between having a balanced collection and serving the needs of your patrons?
I am a firm believer in representing all points of view and having a balanced children’s collection at my library. In a perfect world, my budget would be $100,000,000.00 and space would be unlimited and I could give everyone access to everything and let my patrons decide what they want to expose themselves to.
Unfortunately, my budget is much, much less than $100,000,000.00 and the shelf space in my building definitely has limits.
So where do we draw the line?
Okay, let’s put all issues of religion, ethnicity, and politics aside.
Say my library serves a population that consists largely of people who love puppies.
There are definitely some people who love kitties, hamsters, or parakeets, but the majority of the people we serve love puppies, and we get many more requests for books about puppies than we get for any of the other animals. I want to give my patrons what they want, to make the collection useful for them, but I also want to keep my collection balanced. Should I buy books about kitties, hamsters, and parakeets for every puppy-themed book that I purchase?
What if I don’t have the funds to do that? My patrons would check out 100 puppy books, but if I bought 25 puppy books, 25 kitty books, 25 hamster books, and 25 parakeet books, the puppy books would fly off the shelves and the others would just sit there. With budgets as tight as they are, how can I justify purchasing 75 books that might only check out a handful of times? Not to mention that the tax-payers of my community pay for these books. If they want puppy books and they ask for them, shouldn’t I do my best to fill their needs?
On the other hand, what about the people who love kitties or hamsters in my community? If I have 90 puppy books and only a few books about kitties and hamsters, will they wonder why they’re not as well represented at the library? They pay taxes, too. And what about people who love puppies but want to learn a little more about parakeets? If people who love puppies don’t have access to information and stories about kitties, hamsters, and parakeets, how can they expand their minds? And what about the people who haven’t given a lot of thought about animals and turn to the library to make up their minds?
I definitely want materials that represent these different animals in my collection, but is it okay to skew the collection towards puppies if that’s how my population is skewed?
Now, substitute religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, or political views for the animals mentioned above.
What do you think? Where is the line between providing access to all points of view and providing the materials that our patrons are asking for? Since we do have limited budgets and limited shelf space, we have to draw a line somewhere. I’m going to venture that the line will be different for every community.
Where is your line?
Abby Johnson, Children’s Manager
New Albany-Floyd County Public Library
New Albany, IN
(You can also visit me at abbythelibrarian.com!)